Don’t be surprised if you have never before heard of the term obesogens! Simply put, obesogens are those artificial chemicals that are believed to contribute to obesity. Obesogens can be found in many types of food containers, toys, plastics, cookware, baby bottles, and even cosmetics. When obesogens enter the body, they cause a disruption in the body’s normal day-to-day functioning and promote weight gain. So far, more than 20 chemicals have been identified as being obesogens and today we take a closer look at these obesogens – the chemicals that make you fat.
What are Obesogens?
Obesogens are artificial chemicals or foreign chemical compounds that disturb the balance of lipid metabolization in the body, which might eventually lead to obesity.
Obesogens are defined as being chemicals that bring about abnormal changes to the process of lipid homeostasis and fat storage in the body, they disrupt the energy balance of the body, bring about changes in appetite and satiety to lead to overeating and thus fat accumulation, and also change the body’s metabolic set points.
Obesogens are typically found in different types of cookware, plastics, food containers, baby bottles, toys, and even cosmetics.
Upon entering the body, obesogens cause an alteration in the normal functioning of the body’s processes and eventually lead to fat gain, making a person obese over a period of time.
Obesogens are known to be a class of endocrine disruptors. This means that they are artificial chemicals that are capable of interfering with the body’s hormones.
Some obesogens impact the body by activating the estrogen receptors, which causes various types of negative health effects in both men and women. These estrogen receptors of the body are known to bind to anything that even so much as resembles estrogen, and the more these receptors bind to these foreign chemicals, the more harm they cause to the body.
Certain types of obesogens are also linked to premature puberty in females, birth defects, breast cancer, demasculinization in men, and many other disorders apart from obesity.
The biggest impact of these obesogens, unfortunately, often take place in utero itself. For example, if a pregnant woman is exposed to these chemicals, then the child’s risk of becoming obese or overweight in the future increase significantly.
Some Common Obesogens :
Till date, nearly 20 chemicals have clearly been identified as being obesogens. Let us take a look at some of the most common ones and how we can avoid them.
One of the most common obesogens is BPA or bisphenol-A. Everybody must have heard about BPA at some point or other. BPA is a synthetic chemical compound that is found in most types of plastic products such as plastic food containers, beverage containers, baby bottles, and even some metal food cans. BPA has been used by manufacturers for decades now, but it is only recently that studies have shown that very high levels of BPA can cause harm to both humans and animals.
The structure of BPA resembles that of estradiol. Estradiol is one of the most important types of estrogen, the female sex hormone. Due to this, BPA is able to bind easily to the estrogen receptors present in the body.
The greatest sensitivity to this compound is in utero. It is shocking, then, that over 95 percent of all pregnant women in the United States have tested positive for BPA in their urine. Many studies have also shown that exposure to BPA increases the risk of obesity and weight in both animals and humans.
BPA exposure is also known to cause insulin resistance, diabetes, neurological disorders, thyroid dysfunction, heart disease, genital malformations, cancer, and many other types of serious conditions.
While all researchers and scientists agree that BPA is harmful at high levels, the debate still rages on about how harmful BPA is at the low levels that are found in food sources.
To reduce your intake of BPA, it is better to avoid using plastic containers and canned foods. Buy foods that are being sold in glass containers and jars instead. Also, checking the label to see whether the container is BPA-free can also help.
Atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the US, though shockingly, it is banned in many European countries because it causes the contamination of groundwater.
Atrazine is known to be an endocrine disruptor, thereby making it an obesogen. Several studies have shown that exposure to atrazine corresponds to many types of birth defects in humans.
Atrazine has also been proven to cause mitochondrial damage in rats, increasing their abdominal obesity, and at the same time, lowering the metabolic rate. While human studies are still a long way off, it is necessary that we take into consideration the proof from animal studies and avoid exposure to atrazine just to be on the safer side.
Phthalates are commonly used for making plastics flexible and soft. These chemicals are found in items such as beauty products, toys, food containers, paint, shower curtains, and even certain types of pharmaceuticals.
Phthalates are extremely viable to leach out of plastic containers and contaminate the food. They can also leach out and contaminate the water supply and even pollute the air we breathe in.
A study done by the Primary Care Research Unit, County Council of Värmland in Sweden, found that children can easily absorb excessive amounts of airborne phthalates released from plastic floor material through the respiratory tract and the skin.
According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a majority of Americans test positive for phthalate metabolites in their urine.
Phthalates increase the risk of obesity by having an impact on the hormone receptors known as PPARs. These are primarily involved in metabolism. Many studies have shown that high phthalate levels in the body can also cause insulin resistance and increase the waist circumference. Furthermore, exposure to phthalate in the womb can cause undescended testicles, lower testosterone levels, and genital malformations.
Many countries have already banned the use of phthalates in plastic products.
Minimizing your exposure to obesogens is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of obesity. While it is next to impossible to avoid all 20 obesogens as they are literally in everything and everywhere, you can reduce your exposure by following some small tips to minimize the risk of obesity and other health complications as well.
- As much as possible avoid using foods and beverages that are stored in plastic containers
- Do not feed your baby from a plastic bottle. Use glass bottles instead
- Use natural and organic cosmetics
- Use stainless steel or cast iron cookware instead of non-stick cookware
By following these small tips, you will be able to cut down your exposure to obesogens effectively.